How to deal with- and get through- a breakup with your self-esteem intact
Category: Better Endings | Author: Elly Prior | First published: 20-08-2017 | Modified: 09-02-2018
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You're going through a bad breakup - that's so tough! I'm assuming that your partner has told you they no longer love you. You've been dumped, or otherwise told your relationship or marriage is over. And it hurts!
All kinds of things could have led to the breakup - a slow decline, the discovery of infidelity, an obsessive love, an abusive relationship, etc.
Regardless of the reason, I’m willing to bet that breaking up has been a nightmare.
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To feel you're no longer being loved and, in worse case feel you're being reviled, can feel utterly devastating. You're entitled to take your time to get over all this.
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What makes for a bad breakup?
I suspect you're dealing with any of the following...
- Your (ex)partner has 'suddenly' changed and has become nothing short of abusive
- One of you was unable to accept the ending
- Your (ex)partner suddenly disappeared
- Your (ex)partner has stopped all contact
- Your (ex)partner was/is stalking you after the breakup
- Your (ex)partner has threatened to harm you, him/herself or your children (see my article: Signs of an Abusive Relationship)
- Your (ex)partner is in another relationship already and perhaps moved in with that person straight away (see my article: Surviving Infidelity)
- You just hadn't seen the breakup coming
- You were in the midst of planning your wedding
I could go on and on because I can't tell you how many different scenarios I've come across in my counselling room. Of course it matters to you how it happened, and your pain will be very real too. However, regardless of the precise circumstances of the ending your relationship or marriage, my advice is going to be the same.
I can imagine that you've had many a sleepless night lately. If the ending came out of the blue, doubtless you've felt like screaming that your partner must have got it wrong somehow.
And now you're in pain, I know. Just hang on in there - I'm aiming to help you get over the shock of that ending with tons of tips and advice. This article will be particularly useful for you if the breakup happened in the last 3 weeks. But whenever your relationship ended, I hope you'll still find nuggets of tips and advice here to help you recover sooner too.
Let's start by 'normalising' your feelings so that you know...
- that you're not the only one
- that your reactions are normal
- what you can expect of yourself, and
- what to do today
First week after the breakup
See how many of the following you recognise…
10 Early symptoms of being told "it's over".
- You just can't believe it - you desperately try to make sense of it all. It's like you've had a severe blow to the head or stomach
- You're having difficulty thinking, concentrating and retaining information
- All you can do is cry
- You spot 'reminders' everywhere of your relationship and what you feel is still your partner
- You feel like everything is too much effort. You may not even have the energy to consider how to deal with it all now, let alone actually getting over the breakup
- You feel hurt, angry, confused and bewildered
- You avoid people who you're not yet ready to talk to about the breakup
- You feel irritated and angry with 'trivia' and ‘pointless’ stuff
- You feel exhausted, yet have trouble falling asleep and may often wake up throughout the night
- You may even wonder if your ex has had some kind of breakdown (particularly if there doesn't appear to be anybody else on the scene)
It's not surprising then if you've completely turned into yourself, become a total grouch, have no patience and don't even recognise yourself.
3 Things you can expect of yourself right now
- Simply to cope with 'not coping' in the immediate aftermath
- Accept that you're going to be emotional - it's a very natural and normal reaction. Don't let yourself be told that you should be over it after 7 days. You're likely to feel somewhat better around 3 days after the initial floodgates open. After about 2 - 4 weeks you'll begin to feel a little more in control again. After roughly 4 - 6 weeks, you'll feel a whole lot calmer
- Accept that during the first 6 - 12 months, there may be lots of times that you'll feel distraught because something reminds you of your ex or the relationship. (Although this does depend on what else is happening in your life, of course, and how much you’d invested in the relationship in terms of time, hope and energy)
Further coping strategies...
3 Effective strategies to help you get through the dark days
- Accept practical help - shopping, cleaning, picking up your dry-cleaning or post etc - from those who offer it, or ask if they can help. People often like to be helpful - it can make them feel needed. Choose your helpers wisely though!
- Accept emotional support from loved ones. Talk about the breakup with them. Consider connecting with an online counsellor specialised in breakups. For further information, see my page: Online Breakup Advice.
- Accept your own individual way of coping. There's no one just like you. You're entitled to your own feelings and reactions. What other people think of that is no business of yours! To help you cope with your feelings, consider self-hypnosis. Hypnosis with the aid of a professional download is effective, user-friendly and affordable. See my article: Hypnosis FAQ and Downloads.
Week 2 following the end of your relationship
You may be very tempted to ignore the following, I suspect. But, I promise you, you'll be so relieved once you've faced this potentially challenging bit of work head-on. Get a friend to help and encourage you and keep you to the task.
5 Effective steps to avoid financial chaos
- Get your partner out of your joint bank accounts now!
- Gather up all loose paperwork and put it into monthly or quarterly piles, and divide into: file, throw, to do
- If you're in dire straights financially, get on that phone and make an appointment to speak to your bank, a knowledgeable friend, or any other person who can advise you
- File the paperwork you sorted
- Do 1 or 2 items a day on your financial ‘to do list’ if you really can't cope with it all at once
Tell family and friends
You step out of the door, knowing your life won't be the same again. Yet, everybody else will continue more or less as if nothing has happened. There's this gaping hole in your life, but too often it'll only be acknowledged in passing.
Yet, you're going to need all the support you can get from the right people.
Consider, therefore, as soon as possible who you're going to tell and precisely what you want to say to them.
Here's how to prepare yourself
Prepare 'statements' now for…
- People who only play a small role in your life but need to know anyway
- People you don’t get on with all that well, who you’ll only want to tell the bare minimum
- People who keep asking awkward questions
- Your children - they’ll want to continue seeing your ex (provided there was no abuse towards them of course)
- Any other awkward situation where you might run into someone you know
Write down what you want to say to whom, and practice it a few times. It gives you that little bit of extra control over the situation, which can give you the confidence boost you might really be in need of right now!
Sort your social life
No doubt you've made joint friends. You may have grown close to some of them, and perhaps some of your ex’s family. You may have things in your diary - holidays, celebrations, special days, etc.
It’ll help you get that sorted by cancelling the ones you really don't want to attend in the next 6 weeks at least. Write a note of the cancellations, and let someone help you if necessary. Don't leave it, do it now. You’ll feel better when it’s done and not hanging over you like a dark cloud anymore.
2 - 4 Weeks post-breakup - reclaim your living space
If you're able to remain living in the same flat or house, change it up a little! Don't live in a space you feel your partner abandoned, even if it's just for a short while because you know you’ll be moving out anyway. Get cracking! Some people in your situation feel terribly out of control of everything now that their world has turned upside down. If that's the same for you, you desperately need to create some sense of order again to help you feel safe in your own surroundings.
The following tasks are to be done only when you're ready. That’s when the first wave of shock has worn off and you know the breakup is permanent.
10 Effective ways to help deal with a bad breakup
Whether or not you were actually living together...
- Use the occasion to invite your friends round for a good clear-out party, or get cracking yourself as soon as you've mustered the energy.
- Set aside anything that belongs to your ex and give them a deadline to collect it all (3 days is generally enough).
- Fill the space with your own possessions (including a fresh bunch of flowers!). It's a great way to divert the energy of any anger into something positive.
- Throw out stuff you got together or, if you're not ready to do that, pack it up and put it in someone else's attic or garage
- Paint a wall (or all walls!) in your colours
- Move furniture around
- Sling a beautiful throw over the chair or the sofa where they always sat
- Turn your mattress over
- Buy new bedlinen (can't afford new? Ask friends and family to donate)
- Clear out your kitchen cabinets of all their favourite cups, mugs, sauces, condiments, etc
None of this is going to 'cure' you, of course. It would be unrealistic to expect that. However, each and every small step you take is a step towards a new future.
There may be times you need some extra help though...
You are you own best friend! Act like the very best one you could have ever wished for.
When it's time to get some professional help
There's no shame in needing some extra help to get over something so life-changing as a (bad) breakup.
I would urge you not to delay getting help when you're going through any of the following:
10 Reasons why you should seek professional help now
- You were already stressed before the breakup; perhaps there were existing difficulties at home or at work
- You suffer from acute stress symptoms - you may experience panic attacks and nightmares.
- You desperately wish you'd done more or acted differently
- You feel ashamed about something you've done or not done
- You continue to feel very angry, and maybe feel that your ex is to blame for all the troubles in your relationship
- You avoid thinking or talking about the breakup, or continue to pretend to others that it's 'no big deal'
- You have little accessible support. Maybe you have friends and family, but you don't perceive them as very supportive. Or maybe there are only a few people you know, like and/or trust.
- 4-6 weeks following the breakup you still feel stuck - you can't get on with your life. You can barely cope with normal day-to-day activities. Maybe you feel you can't be bothered, or just seem completely 'incapable' for some reason.
- You're drinking more alcohol than you would normally. Perhaps it's helping you to get to sleep. Or maybe it helps to dampen the impact of the ending of your relationship or marriage. Or at least slow down your constantly whirring thoughts.
- You're taking other legal or illegal substances to help you cope.
Seeking professional help for any of the above reasons will give you the courage you need to start taking control of your life again. With support, there’s no reason you can’t overcome the difficulties that right now seem so insurmountable.
Always remember: there’s no shame in asking for help. In many ways (although I know this may need a leap of faith to believe!) it’s something to be proud of, because it means you’re actively taking charge of your own recovery.
Getting over a bad breakup is hard. However difficult and however much you'd want to avoid it - pain is part of living. Adversity presents us with the opportunity to get to know ourselves better and shape who we are.
I wish I could take the pain away for you, though. But, I know you’ve got the strength to repair yourself!
Be kind to yourself, and let time work its wonderful healing magic. Take a deep breath, put one foot in front of the other, and take everything one day at a time.
You too have the potential to work towards a happy and fulfilling future. :-)
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I want to upfront with you - I may earn a commission from BetterHelp. You pay the same fee, regardless.